Congressional seapower leaders are calling for the Biden administration to name a Navy secretary as soon as possible as the country positions itself to counter China.
House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee Chairman Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), a member of the subcommittee, called on Biden to appoint a Navy secretary as soon as possible during a hearing on unmanned systems Thursday.
"It would be great, if the Biden administration is listening, if they moved with a sense of urgency to nominate a secretary of the Navy," Gallagher said. "This is our priority force, in the priority theater."
China is the "pacing challenge" for the United States, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last month. The Navy's latest shipbuilding plan calls for a major expansion of the fleet, with an over 400-ship battle force fleet by 2045 with an additional 119 unmanned surface vessels and 24 unmanned subsurface vessels.
Gallagher said that there were Democratic members of the subcommittee who would be well-qualified, as well as options in the private sector.
Courtney said he had spoken with members of the transition team in recent weeks to share the same sentiment.
"I couldn't agree more," Courtney said.
Former President Donald Trump nominated Phillip Bilden in January 2017 as his first nominee, but Bilden withdrew in February 2017. Trump nominated his first Navy secretary, Richard Spencer, in June 2017.
Courtney said during an event on Modern Expeditionary Warfare hosted by The Hill Thursday that the Navy secretary position is “critical,” due to the country’s strategic needs.
“Career officials find it very difficult to make those high-level decisions about priorities and policy,” he said. “I think our subcommittee is going to have to fill the vacuum.”
A Navy secretary will help the service navigate the budget process, which Courtney said would be compressed this year with the budget submission in late April or early May.
“We’re really anxiously looking for the day where we have a secretary of the Navy in the saddle, to sort of help with the highly competitive environment that is always in the budget space,” he said.